Ubuntu 10.04 is just around the corner, and it's shaping up to be one of the most eagerly awaited (and controversial) releases in the distro's history. What new goodies are included? How does it tap into the ever-expanding world of social networking? And most importantly, can you move those window control buttons back to the right of the titlebar, as nature intended? Read on for the gory details...
Twice a year since 2004, we are consumed by Ubuntu fever. The initial symptoms of this affliction are defined by the question: "What will Ubuntu do next?" The press releases, announcements, mailing lists and blogs then take over until release day. With Ubuntu "Lucid Lynx" 10.04 set for release at the end of April, everyone's well in the throes of this hysteria, and we're here to fuel it further by sharing with you the seven things that you absolutely need to know about Ubuntu 10.04.
The third long term support release (LTS) to come from the Ubuntu camp, Lucid Lynx has many surprises in store for everyone, including its revamped looks and a new logo (see page 48 for more on the fallout that this update has produced). Then there are the exciting new features, including lightning fast boot-up times, and older features that have finally come to maturity in this release.
Ubuntu's mantra with the third LTS release is 'Light', which is also the name of its new theme. Lucid Lynx, the most lightweight Ubuntu release yet, also boasts less bloatware. The major casualty in this of course is Gimp, which although still a fixture on almost all the other major distributions has now been dropped so that you get a lean, light machine. So without further ado, we present the our pick of the features that have got us champing at the update bit.
Shiny! That's how we define Ubuntu's long hoped-for departure from the dusky brown, and it's a good look too. In the past few years, all manners of people, those who use Ubuntu and even those who don't, have expressed their views on the sometime dusty-sometime-dusky-always-brownish 'Human' theme. According to Mark Shuttleworth, we're now in store for five more years of releases with this new theme, which has been christened 'Light'.
The Me Menu text box is only available if you're logged into social networking accounts with Gwibber.
A livelier wallpaper, more colourful icons and a task bar with a reworked notification are only the tip of the cosmetic changes introduced in 10.04. You also get two new themes named Radiance and Ambiance. You can think of these two as comic book characters - the superhero and its arch enemy. Ambiance, the default theme with its darker shades (remember the black task bar) is evil and Radiance with feel-good yellow is the hero. Well, at least that's how we see it.
The biggest departure yet from traditional appearances is in the left-positioning of the window control buttons. With the close, minimise and maximise window buttons now on the left, the freed-up space on the right can possibly be utilised, in Shuttleworth's own words, for some innovative purposes that will probably be introduced with Ubuntu 10.10, due to ship in another six months.
As my good old English teacher used to say, changing your habits isn't easy. You remove 'h' and 'a bit' remains. You then remove 'a' and 'bit' remains. You then remove 'b' and 'it' still remains. Hopefully, you will acclimatise better to the change in position of the window controls.
With multiple streams served side-by-side, Gwibber makes it impossible to miss out on a conversation.
In case the changed position of the window controls hampers with peaceful, curse-free functioning of your machine, you can easily relocate them to the right-hand side end using gconf-editor. Press Alt+F2 and in the Run Application dialog box, type gconf-editor. Click on Apps > Metacity > General on the left sidebar and change the button_layout property from
Changing the position of the colon (:) from the end to the beginning of the line return the control to the right-hand side end of the title bar.
Doing this however, breaks down the new default themes on Ubuntu Lucid, so if you do decide to change the positioning of the window controls, make sure you also switch to one of the older themes, such as Clearlooks.
One more significant change in appearance lies in the notification area on the task bar, where most items are now clubbed. You'll notice for instance, the volume control is clubbed with chat/email notification. This was done to save space on this valuable piece of screen real estate.
Step by step: Sync Firefox bookmarks with Ubuntu One
1. Install Firefox plugins: Once you've logged into Ubuntu One, click Applications > Preferences > Ubuntu One or use the Me Menu to launch the Ubuntu One preferences dialog box and click on the Services tab. Now click on the Install button.
2. Confirm installation: You'll then be asked to confirm that you wish to install the xul-ext-bindwood package. This extension syncs bookmarks to the local CouchDB installation and can later be synced with other CouchDB instances.
3. Restart Firefox: When you restart Firefox it will seem slow, as it's syncing the bookmarks to the local CouchDB instance. When you next connect from a different machine to Ubuntu One, your bookmarks will automatically be synced.
This is Firefox 3.6, showing the yellow task bars and title bars of the Radiance theme.
Social skills special
Ubuntu Lucid, with Gwibber and Me Menu, offers total desktop/social network integration. There are quite a few applications at play here, so let's go over each of them in some detail.
The default IM client on Lucid Lynx is called Empathy, and you still have to configure all your IM accounts, be they Yahoo or Google Talk, before proceeding any further. However, instead of launching Empathy from the Application > Internet menu, you can straight away create your chat accounts from the desktop itself using the Me Menu. Click on your username on the task bar at the top, then click on Chat Accounts. This launches Empathy's Messaging and VoIP Accounts dialog box. The new Ubuntu is all about saving time and effort!
Once you've set up all your chat accounts, it's time then to configure your social networking accounts, so launch Gwibber from the Application > Internet menu. Click on Edit > Accounts or press Shift+Ctrl+A or simply click on Broadcast Accounts under the Me Menu and fill in the account information for each of your social networking vices.
When it's done, Gwibber will pull the latest updates from all your configured accounts. If you have accounts on both Twitter and Identica, Gwibber provides separate entries for each of these in the left-hand sidebar, so your tweets and dents are never fighting for space.
You can toggle the active accounts using the icons at the bottom of the Gwibber window. If you're logged into both Twitter and Identica but wish to only update Twitter using Me Menu, first toggle off Identica and then post your message using Me Menu.
Replying to messages is also very easy, as all you have to do is click on the reply icon on any message to automatically associate the message to the original poster.
What makes the Me Menu even more special is that it provides a text box that you can use to update all your configured social networking sites in one go. Not only does the message get relayed to Gwibber, from which it is posted to all your enabled accounts, such as Twitter and Identica, but it's also sent to Empathy, which sets the same message as your status across all enabled IM accounts, if they support custom status messages.
One awesome feature that has now been made integral to the installation itself if the ability to create encrypted home partitions.
For most of Ubuntu 10.04's developmental release cycle, one of the biggest changes was the switch from Google to Yahoo as the default search engine. In early April, however, the decision was made to go back to Google just before the release of the second beta. Rick Spencer, engineering manager for Ubuntu's Desktop team, announced on the developers' mailing list the switch back to Google, citing users' familiarity for those upgrading from 9.10 to 10.04 as a factor. So, it was nothing to do with the outrage expressed by Linux users at having to use search engine with links to Microsoft then. Not at all...
Also, in case you're one of the few who haven't yet switched to Firefox 3.6, there are some more surprises in store for you. For starters, Firefox is configured to Always show the tab bar by default. Click Edit > Preferences > Tabs and unmark the Always show the tab bar check box to free up some space on your browser.
Second, the default behaviour is to open new tabs relative to the current, so don't look for new tabs at the end of the tabs list but instead right next to your current tab. And don't bother heading back to the Preferences dialog box to change this, since it can't be done from there. Instead, you need to open a new tab and type
and hit Enter. Type:
into the filter field, locate an entry that looks like this:
and double-click it so that under Value it now reads false instead of true. Once that little job is done you can enjoy the benefits of the latest version of Firefox without having to live with its most annoying new feature. Result!
To install apps you only need to click on the Install button and the Software Centre does everything by itself.
Although the Ubuntu One service has been on offer since Ubuntu 9.04, a more usable iteration is on offer with Lucid Lynx, and - like a lot of the new Web 2.0 stuff - it too is integrated into the Me Menu.
Ubuntu One is Canonical's ambitious storage service that enables users to store files online and sync them between different computers. You can register for a free 2GB account (or get 50GB for $10 a month) by heading over to https://one.ubuntu.com.
Once you've created an account you can log into it from the Me Menu or via System > Preferences > Ubuntu One. You then have to associate your machines with the newly created account. You should associate all the machines you wish to keep synced with your account.
In the browser interface of Ubuntu One, you can upload a file from under the Files tab. Ubuntu One can even be configured to synchronise Tomboy notes, Evolution contacts and Firefox bookmarks.
The performance boost
As part of its third long-term support release, Ubuntu has adopted a new watchword based on the idea of light. This is reflected not only in the new logo and desktop themes, but also in the changes made to the system to make it use system resources more quickly and efficiently.
As soon as you boot from the new Ubuntu 10.04 disk, the changes made to the interface, the logo and the awesome work done to speed up Ubuntu become apparent.
Sub-10-second boot and shutdown are now achieved on just about all machines, even those with only 512MB RAM.
Ubuntu Software Centre
The Software Centre, although not a new addition to Ubuntu, is now very well polished and ready for mass adoption. The tool makes it extremely easy to install applications and makes Synaptic look bloated in comparison.
The clearly defined application categories, and the elegant interface, make searching for software almost a non-issue, though not all applications are listed in the relevant categories. For example, you wouldn't find the Chromium browser (now part of Ubuntu's repositories) under the Web Browser heading, but instead as just another name under the vast Internet heading.
Step by step: Buying music from Ubuntu One music store
Rhythmbox music player now has support for Ubuntu One music store, which enables you to buy songs from within Rhythmbox itself. You can also purchase albums from the Jamendo and Magnatune stories, but they require you to go through an additional registration process.
When you first launch Rhythmbox and click on Ubuntu One under Stores on the left sidebar, you'll be told that MP3 plugins aren't installed. Click on the Install MP3 Plugins button and Rhythmbox will automatically download and install the Fluendo MP3 plugin for GStreamer. After the plugin is installed, you don't even have to restart Rhythmbox, you can begin using it straight away. Follow these steps to get your library growing...
1. The home page: The home pages lists a number of recommendations, and you can find albums using the Search box in the top-right corner or browse through the different genres such as Rock, Indie, Pop etc.
2. Try before you buy: Once you've found an album that interests you, you can listen to any of the songs on it by clicking the little Play button against each of the songs. If you to like any of the songs enough to buy it, click Download.
3. The basket: You can add more songs to your shopping basket by clicking the Add More button and continuing your search. Really, it's all a lot like Amazon. When you're ready to pay up, click on Checkout.
4. Select payment type: You now get to choose how you're going to pay. The options are PayPal or Visa/MasterCard or Maestro cards. Did we mention that the Ubuntu music store is DRM-free? Well it is.
5. Payment details: Fill in all the relevant information. The download begins soon as you make the payment and when it's completed the songs will be listed under the Purchased From Ubuntu One heading.
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